Before we talk about Tommy Tinder, I should probably paint a better picture of the property that Brian and myself live on. It’s a big property, more land than either Brian or myself know what to do with. The landlord lives with his wife in the main house, across the garden from our cottage, and they’re great people. I think they’re great people at least, to be honest they’re never really around. Behind the cottage is a small cedar wood isolating us from the other properties. In front is the long gravel drive that snakes away from us toward the main road, trees and blackberry bushes lining the left side, our own private pond flanking the right. Then there is the field, the swampland, and beyond that— the tent where homeless Tommy Tinder has staked his claim.
“This was all grassland,” our landlord tells us, “all of it flat.” He means to say that he’s responsible for all of this: the fields, the woods, the pond, the garden, the cottage, us. In other words, he is this Eden’s God. He is our Creator and without him, all of this, all of us are nothing. Whenever I overstep my bounds, put plastic bottles in the wrong bin or park too close to the main house, he reminds me who dug that pond, who planted those trees, how sweetly he rested on the seventh day.
I’m not sure he knows that Tommy Tinder is living here now. If all of this were still grasslands he’d know, but it’s not, so he doesn’t. Hidden beyond the wet growth of the pond, Tommy’s tent has plenty coverage. This is also for my benefit, because I like to pretend that Tommy’s not living here. I like to pretend that Tommy doesn’t exist. When Tommy does venture from his tent to our cottage to use our toilet paper and empty our fridge, I block him out, pretend that it’s me eating all this food and that in all actuality I’m not starving myself.
Pretending isn’t always so easy. Some nights, when I’m up late and cannot sleep and Tinder has lost its allure, there’s nothing to do but listen to the frogs fuck. Their croaks, their rustling in the reeds. And then there’s the screams. Screams that really make you feel something.
I leave the cottage without bothering to put on shoes. Sharp gravel sticking to the soles of my feet. Following the screams on the wind that tear through the trees, I loop right after the pond. Through muddy marshland I walk, bare feet sinking into its mud. A silhouette of a tent in the near distance. Its fabric ripples in the wind. Beyond the tent, a wooden fence, one that looks over farmland pasture where several horses graze. Now the horses are still and they watch me, the light of the full moon reflected in their usually empty eyes. The screams are deafening now, along with the slapping of sweaty skin. I’m afraid to breathe, the wind is doing enough of it. My whole body feels sore, aching, like something has been torn away, some enveloping layer just gone. I don’t know where it went, what this layer was even protecting. There’s nothing left to protect.
I sit down in the grass, sink gently into the side of the tent and try not to cry. The way Brian’s hand clenches the fabric, the way his eyes clench so unbearably shut (you can hear this in his screams), his breasts slapping against each other—I swear I’m not listening to this. I swear I’m not. I’m just here. I’m just here. There is no reason for me to be here, I swear.
The screaming stops, replaced by low moans and heavy breaths and I hear them reposition themselves, making deals and arrangements in whispers. A slow wet clap. A slow, a slow, a slow wet slap. UUHHH. OHHHHH. I sink further into the side of the tent and close my eyes. Flailing arms, flailing legs—
a numbing bash against the head. My head. I collapse into the grass. I can’t see. Inside the tent is silence.
“What was that?” I hear Tommy hiss.
More silent shifting within.
“I think I kicked something.” That was Brian.
Cradling the back of my skull I fear may be fractured, I crawl through the grass like an animal, some creature of the nighttime. The tent unzips from the inside and two shadows emerge. I fumble into a four legged scamper. The frogs are at it again and I’m after them, all fours soaked in mud and grass and I’m after them, through brush and reeds and weeds I dive—
~ripples in the water~
Silence. All I hear is silence with black water pushing up against my eardrums. I rise up from the water. Even the frogs are quiet now. Both Tommy and Brian stand naked in the night. A wisp of cloud drifts over the moon.
“What was that?” Tommy asks.
“Sounded like a fucking pretty huge frog,” Tommy says before returning to the tent.
I peek through the overgrown weeds of the pond’s edge, watch Brian stand outside the tent, naked in the moonlight, his breasts gleaming a surreal, dead man’s dream glow. Dark shadows where I know there must be too much pubic hair. I watch him, him watching the pond. For a time I think he sees me, his eyes right on mine and he doesn’t blink. I’m not blinking either. It’s just us there now, the first time in weeks it’s just us. My hands and knees sink into the silky silt of the pond. Brian reaches for the cigarette behind his ear. He places it between his lips, doesn’t light it.
As I lay there in the pond, watching Brian through the reeds, the throb of my head making slow rhythmic ripples behind me, I feel like a child again. The summer after second grade, specifically. I’m at one of my older sister’s swim meets. I’m not watching though, I’m hiding on this play structure tower on the playground when another child joins me. This child says something to me but I don’t respond. The child sits down and watches me and I say nothing, it’s awhile before I understand why. There’s a confusion as I look at this child, because I don’t know whether they are a boy or a girl. I feel I must know, that I should know, so I ask the child—
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
And I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a curiosity that I need answered.
The child answers— “a girl.”
Looking at her short cropped hair, her plain face and hand-me-down baggy clothing, I don’t believe her.
“Can you prove it? If you can’t prove it you can’t stay here in my home.” I’m talking about the play structure.
The child doesn’t seem disturbed by the question, because she too would like to stay in this play structure that is my home, though she’s slow to understand what I mean by proving it. I’m not sure I understand either, it was only a question.
The child’s parents are close by and hear the question. Through the bars of my home, they demand I repeat it to them. I don’t say anything. They demand I get off the play structure. I get off the play structure. They tell me to point to where my parents are. I point to my mom. I see her by the pool watching my sister swim and it makes me sad, because soon enough she’ll know.
The parents of the child leave me there, demanding I stay put. I stay put. I don’t watch as they approach her. I don’t watch as they tell her. She comes to fetch me, red in the face, takes me by the hand and pulls me from my home. I turn to see the child in the play structure, her green eyes watching me through its bars.
At my real home my mom asks me what I said to the girl in the playground. I tell her I didn’t say anything. When mom asks again, I don’t say anything.
Back then we’d still go to church and every time I went and listened to the pastor preach, I knew I didn’t belong there. I knew I was going to hell for what I’d done. There was no turning back, I was meant to burn. I would sing the songs and pray the prayers and make the sign of the cross, but I knew it wouldn’t change a thing. I was damned. I never confessed this sin to the pastor or to God because I feared the fire in their eyes. I accepted the flames that waited for me at the end. I just hoped the girl in the playground wouldn’t follow me there.
I no longer believe in the literal hellfire after death, but as I watch Brian naked in the moonlight, my whole body throbbing now, I wonder if this is my punishment, this is my hell. Doomed to love another who loves another. Although I’m half-submerged in cold water, I feel like I’m burning. I’ve reached the end.
It seems his eyes are still on me. I raise my right arm slowly, careful not to make any splash. I give the faintest of waves. Remember me?
Brian doesn’t respond. I realize his eyes are just over mine, looking at something beyond me.
A voice from the tent— “anything?”
“Nothing,” says Brian, and he disappears back into the tent, followed by a long, slow zip. “There’s nothing there.”
I track mud and duck shit back into the cottage, leaving wet clothes in my wake. Dark spots spread across the carpet. Sometimes it’s so good to see someone even when they don’t see you. I don’t go to sleep on my mat in the corner, instead I curl up beneath my desk where Brian used to sleep, smell the carpet that once smelled like Brian and now smells like feet. Tomorrow, I know, it’ll smell like duck shit. I don’t hear anymore screams that night. No frogs croak and even the wind seems to die. Outside it is nothing. Inside it is the hum of the fridge, the squish of wet carpet every time I shift.
In the dim light of the moon, the little that finds itself under this desk, I look at the collage of photographs and postcards that Brian has taped there. They’ve begun to wilt. A forgotten tribute to our home, to our life together. I look into the these pictures and wish that I was there, forget that I am there, that I am always right here. I wonder why we’re all doomed to love the wrong people. Someone who loves someone who loves someone else—
It’s endless. It needs to stop. I want it to stop. It takes all my willpower, every ounce of strength to fight the fate of my fingers, their destiny. This blog-journal-something-whatever is supposed to be about Tinder. This is not supposed to be about me. None of this is supposed to be about me. I don’t touch my phone that night. I can’t bring myself to touch it. This isn’t about me.
join man next week for journal #15 (in which said man makes a big Tinder decision)